A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in the Weeks Ending Oct. 30, 2008

Syrian Troops Enclose Lebanon, Rice Contacts Hamas


25 Oct. As part of the incipient thaw in US relations with Damascus, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice relayed a friendly message to Hamas political leader Khalid Meshaal through Syrian foreign minister Walid Muallem’s aides.

The message, described by Moussa Abu Marzouk, one of the heads of Hamas’ Damascus headquarters, as a “verbal communication” was delivered as four Syrian divisions completed their deployment on Lebanon’s borders last week. It was the first communication ever from a senior US official to the Palestinian fundamentalists, which Washington lists as a terrorist group. Rice even complimented Hamas for halting its missile and rocket fire into Israel.

After Moussa Abu Marzouk on Oct. 22, spilled the beans of what he called US recognition of Hamas, the state department issued a hurried denial.


Osama bin Laden is writing a book to correct “negative propaganda” on al Qaeda


25 Oct. Chief of al-Qaeda Osama Bin Laden is busy writing a book in Arabic on the so-called struggle of his outfit, according to alQaeda sources.

The book will be later translated into English, the sources said, adding that Bin Laden decided to pen a book to counter the ‘negative propaganda and insufficient information’ about al-Qaeda.

“He is writing the book with the assistance of a young man with a Middle Eastern background who will later translate the text into English.”


Four people killed in a light plane crash


25 Oct. Two brothers, Aviram and Itai Pasternak from Hadera, pilot Eliav Arbel from Karmei Yosef, and Menachem Ben-Zecharia from Netanya were killed when their light plane crashed in a plowed field of Moshav Batzra north of Tel Aviv.


Livni throws in the towel


26 Oct. The veto imposed by ultra-religious Shas party’s rabbinical council finally put paid Friday, Oct. 24, to foreign minister Tzipi Livni’s prospects of heading a coalition government.

Her negotiations with Labor and other potential partners, including Shas and the Pensioners, failed to meet their demands for substantial extra budgets. Shas also insisted on a declaration that Jerusalem would not be placed in the negotiating table with the Palestinians. Finance minister Ronnie Bar-On stood firm against reopening the 2009 State Budget to accommodate her.

The foreign minister was unable to reconcile the extremes, because when it came down to it, none of her prospective partners respects her ability to fill the exacting function of prime minister of Israel. While solidly supported by the media, Livni never rose to the role of national leader. She ignored the general public, omitting to put forward a platform on security, foreign and social affairs or education and never once took a stand on the global financial crisis already hitting Israel’s job market.


Would-be Hamas kidnapper intercepted by IDF-Shin Bet patrol


26 Oct. The incident, just released for publication, occurred on Sept. 21, when Jamal Abu Douaba was helped by his confederates to steal across the Egyptian border south of the Gaza Strip into the southern Israeli Negev. He was on a mission to kidnap Israel soldiers by luring them to the border for a “profitable dope deal.” After drugging them with “samples of the merchandize,” he would have smuggled them into the Gaza Strip through a prepared tunnel.

This scheme did not come off, but Hamas has not stopped hatching plots to kidnap Israeli soldiers, despite the ceasefire it concluded with Israel in June. The abducted Israeli soldier Gilead Shalit is still held in the Gaza Strip after nearly two and a half years.


Mil Intel chief warns Syria still heavily arming Hizballah


26 Oct. In his briefing to the cabinet’s Sunday session, the head of AMAN, Israeli military intelligence Brig. Amos Yadlin disclosed that in readiness for the next Lebanon war, Hizballah had acquired rockets ten times more powerful than the hardware leveled against northern Israel in the 2006 Lebanon war. Whereas in 2006, the Lebanese terrorists shot rockets carrying 30 tons of explosives, next time, said Brig. Yadlin, the payloads would weigh 300 tons.


US raid killed Syrian al Qaeda cell leader


27 Oct. A US counterterrorism official said Monday, Oct. 27, that American special forces killed the head of a Syrian network that funneled fighters, weapons and cash in to Iraq when they raided Abu Kemal 7 km inside Syria Sunday. The unnamed official said the raid targeted the home of Abu Ghadiyah, leader of a key cell of foreign fighters in Iraq. A villager said the US force grabbed two men and took them away by helicopter when they flew back to Iraq.


Syria, Hizballah on military alert for Israeli action after US commando raid


27 Oct. Damascus and the Lebanese Hizballah have alerted their forces to a possible Israeli strike against Hizballah’s arms smuggling routes, supply sources, and stocks, following the precedent the US cross-border raid in northern Syria Oct. 26.

They point out that, on the morning of the attack, Israel’s military intelligence chief, Brig. Amos Yadlin, told the cabinet session in Jerusalem that Syria had become “Hizballah’s arms warehouse” and was catering to “every single Hizballah wish for strategic resources.” They included medium-range surface rockets, radar systems and anti-air missiles. Yadlin reported that “Assad trusts Hizballah more than his own army.”


Diplomats say IAEA evidence warrants follow-up nuke probe in Syria


28 Oct. Diplomats in Vienna said Tuesday, Oct. 28, that freshly evaluated soil and air samples provide enough evidence to warrant a follow-up probe by the UN nuclear watchdog at the suspected Syrian nuclear site at El Kibar bombed by Israel in September 2007.

IAEA experts want to revisit the site and also follow up on US, Israeli and other intelligence allegations that North Korea had been helping Syria build a plutonium reactor there.

Damascus has denied running a covert program.

According to recent American reports, a Syrian military delegation visited Pyongyang to find out whether their arms deals and nuclear collaboration were at risk as a result of Kim Jong-il’s ill health.

IAEA director Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei and his deputy Dr. Olli Heinonen have been at odds for months over whether the UN watchdog should push ahead with its probe against Syria. ElBaradai argued there was no evidence to support US and Israel claims that Syria had been building a reactor, but Heinonen, who led an agency inspection in Syria last June, differed and wants to go on with the investigation.


New Iranian naval base can block Strait of Hormuz, confront Israeli subs


28 Oct. Iran’s naval chief Adm. Habibollah Sayyari told state radio Tuesday, Oct,28, that the base could be used to block the entry of any “enemy” into the Persian Gulf. Iran has warned it would close the narrow Strait of Hormuz, through which 40 percent of the world’s oil passes, if the US attacked its nuclear installations.

The new base is in the port town of Jask on Iran’s southeastern coast opposite the point where the Gulf of Oman flows into the strait.

debkafile‘s military sources note that from Jask, the Iranian navy would have quick access to the Red Sea, Indian Ocean and Horn of Africa and support for three objectives:

1. A naval presence opposite the Gulfs of Oman and Aden, where Israeli maintains Dolphin submarines. For Tehran their presence is part of Israel’s belligerent posture opposite Iran.

2. Intensified military involvement in Sudan on the Red Sea.

3. A counterweight for the US, NATO and Russian naval might building up off the pirate-ridden Somali coast.


US shuts Damascus embassy over “increased security risk”


29 Oct. debkafile‘s military sources report the Syrian government is braced for US raids to continue after the assault near Abu Kemal in northern Syria which left 8 people dead. Wednesday night, Oct. 30, Damascus threatened to break off security cooperation not only with the US but also with Iraq for restraining terrorist traffic through their common border. Thursday, tens of thousands of Syrians demonstrated against the US raid.

debkafile‘s sources reported earlier that following a Syrian threat of “painful responses” for the American attack, the embassy had prepared for extreme events, such as possibly a Syrian military siege of the embassy, violent demonstrations or even a direct attack that would force the evacuation of staff.

The Assad government’s closure of the American cultural and school Monday and protest to the UN Secretary General and Security Council Chairman are seen as just the beginning of Damascus’ counteraction in Syria and Iraq.


Israel goes to the polls February 10


29 Oct. The date was approved Tuesday, Oct. 28 after president Shimon Peres announced that no lawmaker had proved capable of forming a viable government to complete the House’s four-year term up until 2010. The Israeli parliament will dissolve itself next week.

Monday, opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu laid out Likud’s platform for the voter, the first party leader to do so. He vowed that Iran will not become a nuclear power, that Israel would not return to the pre-1967 boundaries but only to defensible borders; promised peace talks from a position of strength and an offer to the Palestinians of an “economic peace” in partnership with Israel.

Most opinion polls show Netanyahu’s Likud and Livni’s Kadima jockeying for top position with defense minister Ehud Barak’s Labor taking a beating. Livni and Barak have begun trying to edge each other off the doves’ platform.


Likud will keep education in future government


29 Oct. This was pledged by Binyamin Netanyahu, who said education was a top priority for his party, in response to the ultra-religious Shas’ demand for education portfolio.

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